By September 13, 2016 Read More →

WV high court won’t let Wells on ballot for clerk

Charleston Gazette-Mail file photo by Chris Dorst Erik Wells listens to arguments before the West Virginia Supreme Court last week on whether his name can stay on the ballot this November. In a 4-1 decision, justices ruled that Wells could not run as an independent, since he is a registered Democrat.

Charleston Gazette-Mail file photo by Chris Dorst
Erik Wells listens to arguments before the West Virginia Supreme Court last week on whether his name can stay on the ballot this November. In a 4-1 decision, justices ruled that Wells could not run as an independent, since he is a registered Democrat.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former state senator Erik Wells cannot be on the general election ballot for Kanawha County clerk as an independent, the state Supreme Court ruled in an order released Monday morning.

The court upheld an Aug. 18 ruling by Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King, who ruled that Wells is ineligible to run as an independent since he is a registered Democrat.

King said allowing Wells to appear on the November ballot as an independent “would be inaccurate and create voter confusion.”

The Supreme Court based its ruling on court filings and Sept. 7 oral arguments. Monday’s order directs Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick — whose job Wells would have been running for — to “take whatever measures are necessary” to ensure Wells does not appear on the general election ballot.

Justices Brent Benjamin, Menis Ketchum, Allen Loughry and Margaret Workman formed the majority for the court. Justice Robin Davis dissented, and reserved the right to file a dissenting opinion.

Wells said he was disappointed by the court’s order, and said he hopes justices soon issue an opinion to clarify the status of other candidates intending to run as independents this fall.

“While I’m disappointed in the outcome, I appreciate the fact the court reviewed the law, and I’ll want to find out their reasoning in denying me ballot access,” Wells said.

“I’m surprised an opinion didn’t accompany the order,” he added. “Does this just pertain to me or apply to everybody else?”

The court’s order Monday indicates that a detailed opinion will “follow in due course.”

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant — who is married to Wells — and her office, through the Statewide Voter Registration System, have identified seven candidates with major party affiliations who have filed to run in the November election as independents.

Briana Wilson, a spokeswoman for Tennant’s office, said Monday that list does not include Wells or Sandra Saurborn, a registered Republican running as an independent for Marion County clerk. Wilson said there could be other independent candidates who have not been entered into the system.

Wells said supporters have encouraged him to run a write-in campaign if the court kicked him off the ballot, but said Monday he had not decided whether to pursue that option.

“It would be a lot of work at this point,” he said.

During the Kanawha Circuit Court hearing, Wells testified he had not planned to run for county clerk until he read news accounts of incorrect re-drawings of precinct maps by McCormick’s office. Those errors, first reported by the Gazette-Mail, resulted in hundreds of May primary voters casting votes in the wrong state delegate and senatorial districts.

That was past both the Democratic primary and the deadline for county executive committee to fill the vacancy for county clerk on the general election ballot, prompting Wells to use the petition process to try to get on the ballot as an independent.

McCormick, a Republican who now will have no opponent on the ballot, said she was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This issue was not about having a candidate running against me, but rather, I was seeking to clarify state Code,” McCormick said in a statement. “I want to thank the Supreme Court for their decision and I promise to continue to serve the people of Kanawha County honorably in the office of their county clerk.”

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Monday he had not publicly commented on the issue, saying both potential candidates were highly qualified.

“Kanawha Countians had nothing to lose with either one of these folks as their clerk,” he said.

Kanawha County ballot commission will hold an “emergency” meeting at 1 p.m. today.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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